Gertrude Rush

Lived:August 5, 1880—January 1, 1962 (aged 81)

Gertrude E. Rush was a lawyer, civil rights activist, suffragist and author, and the first African American female lawyer in Iowa.

Rush was born on August 5, 1880, in Navasota, Texas. After graduating from high school in Quincy, Illinois, she was a teacher from 1898 to 1907. In 1907, Rush married Des Moines attorney James B. Rush and began studying law with him while working in his office. She earned a Bachelor of Arts at Des Moines College (now Des Moines University) in 1914 and a law degree through correspondence courses with La Salle Extension University. In 1918, Rush was admitted to the Iowa Bar and became the first African American woman to practice law in Iowa (and remained the only female African American lawyer in Iowa until 1953). Her husband had passed away shortly before that, and Rush took over his practice in Des Moines, focusing on women's legal rights in estate cases.

In 1921, Rush was elected president of the Iowa Colored Bar Association, the first woman to lead a state bar association with both male and female members. In 1925, after being denied admission to the American Bar Association because of her race, Rush and four male lawyers founded the Negro Bar Association (later renamed the National Bar Association). Rush was a also member of the Illinois Bar and had offices both in Des Moines and Chicago.

In addition to her law practice, Rush held positions in a number of local, state and national organizations. She was president of the Iowa Federation of Colored Women's Clubs from 1911 to 1915, and later chaired the Legislative and Mothers departments. She was a founding member of the Iowa NAACP and founded the Des Moines Charity League, which served Des Moines' African American community. She was a member of the Colored Women's Suffrage Club and served on the board of directors for several Des Moines civic organizations.

A lifelong member of the Baptist church, Rush served as attorney for the women's auxiliary of the National Baptist convention for twenty-five years, travelling the world to attend international Baptist conferences. She wrote several nationally renowned religious plays and hymns and researched the 240 women of the Bible, completing stories on the women of the Old Testament.

Rush died in 1962. She was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1994.

"Gertrude E. Durden Rush." In Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1996. Gale In Context: Biography (accessed January 23, 2020).

Woten, Rick L. "Rush, Gertrude Elzora Durden" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 September 2019.